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An American Institution

An American Institution

(p.1) Chapter 1 An American Institution
For the Many or the Few
University of Chicago Press

The initiative process embodies the simple idea that ordinary citizens should have the right to propose and pass laws without the consent of their elected representatives. The initiative has been a part of state and local government for more than one hundred years now, making it an older institution than universal women's suffrage, term limits for the president, direct election of U.S. senators, and so on. Opinion polls consistently reveal strong support for the initiative process at all levels of government—even the federal—from residents of both initiative and noninitiative states. Yet despite its enduring popularity, the initiative continues to trouble some observers, who question whether voters are sufficiently informed to decide complicated policy issues and whether the initiative ultimately promotes democracy or works to the advantage of the special interests. This chapter provides background information on the initiative—its history and current use—partly to dispel some misconceptions. It then discusses some important lessons from the previous literature, and explains the empirical approach of the book.

Keywords:   initiative, citizens, elected representative, opinion poll, democracy, government, law

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